Freedom at Last! A Day of Memory

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff sends this memoir of her own experiences on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

November 9 — Freedom at last! A Day of Memory
by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff

I’ve noticed that I often seem to end up in places where history is made or about to be made. Tehran in 1979, Baghdad in 1982/3, Kuwait in 1990, Tripoli in 2001 — September 11, no less.

But I was privileged to experience firsthand the divide between East and West in Berlin in 1988.

Born in 1971, I was a child of the Cold War, of the 1980s, of ICBM’s, and of all too frequent reports of crippling food shortages in Moscow. When I attended third and fourth grade in Vienna, I remember welcoming a Polish girl, Katharina, to our class. Her family had fled from the riots in Warsaw (No problems at all with integration, by the way).

I took AP History in my final two years of high school in Austria. As the focus of AP History lay on the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, the curriculum included a weeklong field trip to what was then West Berlin. It was November 1988, a full year before the wall would finally be torn down.

My classmates and I traveled by bus from Vienna through Czechoslovakia and Poland into East Germany, with lengthy and tedious waits at the borders. The border crossing that has remained with me ever since was the one from East Germany into West Berlin. Long lines, and a thorough check of passports, since my classmates and I were suspicious: a group of students from many diverse countries, some holding diplomatic passports due to their parents’ status. The weather was as dreary as the surroundings.

As we drove into West Berlin, down the Kurfürstendamm, to our youth hostel, I noticed the stark contrast of East Germany and Germany’s soon-to-be capital. Lights, modern cars honking, bustling Christmas markets, capitalism in full swing. And the next day I saw the complete opposite. We rode Berlin’s underground, feeling the effect of the city’s division when the train wouldn’t even slow down at certain stops along the way. We walked along the notorious Wall, and arrived at Checkpoint Charlie.

Our group was divided into those who held diplomatic passports and those without. The former did not have to endure searches and compulsory currency exchanges as the latter did. In the former group, I was essentially waved through. But I did feel the immediate loss of freedom as I waited on the other side, in East Berlin. Just as I felt it — painfully — in Nicosia, Cyprus, as well as in the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea.

My field trip to East and West Berlin had a profound effect on my respect for freedom and those who fight for freedom. And on this day, it is important to salute those who put their lives on the line so that we may experience this precious gift. Let us realize that freedom comes at a cost, often the ultimate cost. It is not a free commodity. For my part, I will never cease to appreciate those who came before me; I will never cease to support those who continue to put their lives on the line so that those who come after us may live in freedom.

As someone who knows, let me tell you the following: As long as you haven’t lost your freedom, as long as you do not know what life is like without freedom, you cannot understand the nature of life without freedom. It is worse than death. It is bondage. It is a longing for another life. It is unbearably painful.

Thank you, President Reagan. And let us heed his warning:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Since 2007, I have pledged to do just that. Freedom forever!

13 thoughts on “Freedom at Last! A Day of Memory

  1. It’s funny that I would read this article just after reading an article about the poppy display at the Tower of London.
    It’s the same subject just different examples.

    • A comparison between the Iron Curtain and Islam should keep their mirror image in mind: In one, a violent revolution installed a regime that had to build a wall to keep its own freedom-loving people from escaping from totalitarian tyranny to freedom; in the other, millions of people have been physically leaving their totalitarian tyrannies to immigrate into the free West — not to escape to freedom, but to bring their freedom-hating mental baggage into our societies in order to exploit our freedoms for their long-range goal of destroying freedom.

      Which is why the free world has to deport all Muslims and quarantine them behind an Iron Veil — not to keep freedom-loving people in (as the Iron Curtain did), but to keep freedom-hating people from escaping to try to destroy the societies of the free world.

  2. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – St. Paul writing to the church in Galatia, which is now central Turkey. The church is gone now and the Turks live in the spiritual and physical slavery of Islam.

    • I spent a couple of weeks in Izmir back in the 1990s. How could lousy arrogant backward Islam hold on to so much this long?

      • Izmir was known as Smyrna for millennia until 1921-22. Izmir is the Turkish name. It was a primarily Greek city with substantial Jewish and Armenian minorities and smaller Italian, French, English and American enclaves. It was a thriving Westernised Aegean port, business and industrial centre. Its fertile hinterland was overwhelmingly Greek populated and should under Wilson’s principles of “self-determination” have become a part of the sovereign Greek state.

        Gone, all gone when the Nationalist Turkish military invaded the city, on some flimsy pretext that the Turkish Muslim minority (which had migrated there over the previous half century for the job opportunities that Western culture had brought) was being “oppressed”. The Turkish military and local Muslims ran riot and burned, looted, raped and murdered. Greek civilians were left at the mercy of the Turks and thousands died.

        There are no Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Armenian or Greek Orthodox people left in “Izmir”, nor any of their places of worship. Just the Muslim-Turk monoculture.

        The tragedy of Smyrna goes largely unrecognized. Because the Anglo-French-Italian forces cravenly backed down and allowed the Turks to take Smyrna over from the Greeks in the aftermath of World War 1. A thoroughly shameful episode.

        • Just like now through Turkish eyes. I wonder what they have in mind for London and Paris?

    • beautifully said. but I have to disagree about the Turks. the Turks put the yoke of slavery on the necks of the Eastern Christians over the millennium. Many were slaughtered in the most terrible ways, many were forcibly converted, and those who had the courage to keep their core Christian faith faced terror on a daily basis despite the Jizyah they paid. That part of the world never recovered from the onslaught of Islam. Turks love Islam- “the religion of the beast.” St. John of Damascus wrote that.

  3. Not everyone remembers that Austria was also partitioned, and Vienna like Berlin. Funny stories circulated–Russian soldiers who encountered their first toilets and believed they were decadent Western foot-baths, Ami soldiers sneaking across the line in Vienna to bring in food, etc. and bring out people. A look at the monstrous monument on the Ring to the Russian army. The wonderful apocryphal story of the Austrian chancellor who won his country’s freedom by taking the then chair of the Comintern’s challenge to see who could drink whom under the table, with vodka–and won. Probably the Russians knew nothing about Heurige wine or the neighboring Slivovitz.

    And a year after the Wall fell, in Prague, we saw the empty, unbelieving eyes of a few former apparatchiks wandering the streets, against the background of a wild rock concert in Old Town Square, where a young woman, spying a couple of obvious Americans, ran up and conducted a joyful monologue in Czech, gesticulating, smiling and almost jumping out of her skin, then running back into the happy crowd. And we reflected on the fact that this might be the only republic that had been led to freedom by an inspired poet.

  4. It was great to see the Wall come down! But what I remember best is the day it started going up. My family was on vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico. We were largely cut off from the news. But we couldn’t miss the huge headlines on the newspapers when we came out of the hotel. I can still feel the shock. It felt like the world was sliding downhill.

  5. Wretchard says:

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Fall of the Berlin Wall a quarter of a century ago as “a miracle”.

    (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday an irrepressible yearning for freedom brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down 25 years ago and called it a “miracle” that the Cold War barrier was breached without a shot being fired.

    Speaking on the eve of Sunday’s celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, Merkel said Germany would always be grateful for the courage of East Germans who took to the streets to protest the Communist dictatorship.

    The BBC dwells on the festivities marking the event, saying “concerts and exhibitions are being staged in the city … white balloons marking a stretch of the wall will be released to symbolise its disappearance,” like a magic trick happened that night a quarter century ago. Frauke Lüpke-Narberhaus, a reporter for Spiegel Online, who was born in 1983, sets down her memories of the event; she remembers two young East German soccer players who stayed at her family home before reunification and their surprise at eating Nutella.

    But none of these articles mentions “Ronald Reagan” nor for that matter Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul.

    Time writes “more than one million people are expected to visit Berlin this weekend as the German city celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, according to tourist organization Visit Berlin.” They’ll see Mikahael Gorbachev, who will be a the ceremonies. But of Reagan there is no mention.

    The Independent begins on contemporary note “today marks the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and Google has marked the occasion with a video Doodle.” The Doodle shows the Brandenberg Gate, but still no Reagan, Thatcher or Pope John Paul. It takes the Guardian to mention Lech Walesa, in one sentence, merely to note that he will attend the event.

    And finally there’s the statement of president Obama…

    Obama’s “statement” is par for the course. See here:

  6. Even in October 1990, around “Einheit” or “Unity” Day when East Germany was formally dissolved into the Federal Republic of Germany, the contrast between West and East Berlin, the contrast between West and East Germany was amazing, surreal. And frightening.

    I drive overland from West Germany into East through the Harz mountains and was stunned by the East German villages, towns and cities en route to Berlin. And their grey, shuffling, sickly looking and scared inhabitants. Wernigerode, Halberstadt and Magdeburg were such depressing places that stank of lignite smoke – the low grade brown coal burned for heating. The only signs of vitality were the Vietnamese (from North Vietnam) illegal street hawkers of cigarettes and candy, who scuttled away when word of police presence hit them. No memorials to WW2 soldiers in any of these places and the typical WW1 monument in a village would have 15 men listed with the same surnames appearing two, three or four times.

    There were parts of Magdeburg that hadn’t been touched since April-May 1945: destroyed industrial plants with weeds growing out of the rusting ruins. The Soviet-era modern housing blocks were falling apart with concrete cancer. I couldn’t find a vacant hotel room – because I didn’t understand that it required a bribe to get a room – or anywhere to eat. In a city of over a quarter of a million people. So, hungry and tired, I drove from there to West Berlin at 8.30 at night.

    Turn off the 1930’s built (and not properly maintained) autobahn and enter the glistening, clean, modern, vibrant Ku-Damm, lined with restaurants with heated outdoor seating and packed with tall, well-groomed, handsome, confident West Berliners. The newly-freed Ossie youth, unmistakeable by their bad clothes, bad posture and bad teeth, would venture into Western Berlin and gawp like hillbillies on Fifth Avenue at the prosperity and lifestyle of the oppressed denizens of the evil capitalist West. The contrast in the cars was hilarious: the small, farting, smelly, fibreglass-body in grey and gray, two-stroke engine Trabants and Wartburgs versus the sleek, almost noiseless, almost exhaust free, metallic-duco Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benz.

    Assured we would not be able to find a hotel room in West Berlin due to the imminence of “Unity Day” a small, centrally located, family-run hotel put us up at 10.30pm on makeshift beds in a linen storage room until a room would become available the next morning: the profit motive at work. The hotel was dated in its decor but immaculately kept.

    Then we made our way to East Berlin. It was hard to believe somebody wasn’t playing a Potempkin village-style joke on you, but in reverse. The famous Unter den Linden, the heart of pre-war Berlin was the DDR’s showcase boulevarde: all the old buildings had been repaired or rebuilt. The window displays in the shops were grim, sparse and dusty. The very few people on the streets scurried about guiltily, eyes downcast, as if by looking at you some calamity might befall them – which under the Stasi it could have. And there was this horrible TV tower east of Karl Marx Platz with a large copper-coloured sphere at the top that gave you the feeling your movements were being watched. Tip the attendant at a public washroom a US dollar and he or she might give you a thankful flash of a terrible lack of dentistry. The older residential districts of East Berlin looked like nobody had engaged in any building maintenance since 1939, because they hadn’t.

    Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher? They didn’t have anything to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the re-unification of Germany and the concomitant collapse of the Soviet empire did they? The Guardian and BBC don’t mention it in coverage of the 25th anniversary celebrations so they mustn’t have. Jeepers creepers!

  7. International payments:

    Raiffeisen Zentralbank Österreich

    IBAN: AT513150042908021602


    Made out to: Public Notary Mag. Martin Scheichenbauer, Hemmaweg 5, A-9342 Gurk

    I have just been to a site where Elizabeth speaks, it mention GoV and Vlad Tepes. The above address — I need to know if they take American private checks. If not, I would send you, Baron & Dymphna, my check and ask that you get it to Elizabeth.

    Let me know!

    Sincerely, Maria

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